Above is a view of Rush Skeleton Weed growing out of cracks in the asphalt just up the street from my house. At least that is what it looked like before I cut the stalks and painted the basal leaves with a very toxic herbicide. Departing from organic practices and employing chemicals has been a painful transition for me. Yet, in the case of Skeleton Weed, I can see no alternative. According to the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, it has infested a million acres in the state. You see it everywhere in the lower Foothills.
There are others too. Whitetop has just arrived in my neighborhood and I worry about it spreading. Field Bindweed (Morning Glory) is tough–just keep picking the leaves until it gives up (not easy). Cheatgrass spreads like wildfire (and loves wildfire!)–just pull it all and throw in the trash.
A hike on Sunday revealed a glorious spring bloom in the Foothills. Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Lupines, Evening Primroses, pink and white Phlox, Death Camas, Biscuitroot, Bitterbrush in its full-bloom glory and more. Despite the sea of invasive grasses, these troopers bloom on gamely, giving hikers a real show. I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to grow many of these local natives in the garden. So, I appreciate them in the wild, where they are happy. I hope you can too!
One of the most delightful signs of spring is the emergence of Aase’s Onion in open, sandy areas of the Boise Front. These charming natives are known to occur only in 6 counties of S. Idaho. Named in honor of Hannah Aase (1883-1980), a former botany professor at WSU in Pullman, this ephemeral beauty is also called the South Idaho Onion.
Most of us just encounter onions in the kitchen or in our soup. But it’s exciting to know that there are nearly 20 different onion species that are native to Idaho, and many, many more that are found elsewhere in North America. Another reason to keep your eyes on the ground when hiking!
A sure sign of spring–the yellow blossoms of Creeping Oregon Grape are a welcome source of pollen for hungry bees of all sorts. Oregon Grape (surprise!) is the state flower of Oregon, and the OSU Extension Service declares that no garden should be without one. The short, “Creeping” version in my front yard is an Idaho native–a lovely little evergreen shrub that grows in sun or shade. I definitely agree with OSU!
Each year as the leaves come down we can regard them as a nuisance or as a great gift of organic matter that benefit our landscapes. The Xerces Society’s new campaign Leave the Leaves articulates the benefits of leaves for our insect friends—check it out:https://xerces.org/2017/10/06/leave-the-leaves/ .
Or, if this is the year you have decided to kill some of your lawn, collect your neighbor’s unwanted leaves, put down a base layer of overlapping cardboard or heavy paper and pile the leaves on top. Plant into the mulch next spring.
The more I work with plants, especially native plants, the more I realize that the real goal is not simply replacing lawn and consuming less water. The real goal is creating Habitat: Habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, myriad other insects–and birds. (Build it and they will come!) A landscape that is truly a Habitat buzzes with life. It changes with the seasons. It evolves from year to year, always revealing new surprises. It creates the opportunity for new insights into the natural world that is everywhere around us. It is not static. There are many rewards for the gardener who creates Habitat, one of the best being that the Landscape becomes Habitat for humans!
If you have a moment, stop by the Garden City Library and check out the beautiful Pollinator Garden right next to the library. It was lovely last May when we celebrated its grand opening. And it is still beautiful now, at the tail end of summer. Creator Judy Snow has done a marvelous job of attracting all kinds of bees, bugs and hummingbirds by providing the food they need over a long growing season. It is an inspiration!
Draggin’ Wing will open for fall planting September 5 and be open for the whole month Wednesday-Saturday 10-5. Fall is the best!
I love it when customers send me photos of their beautiful landscapes. This one really knocked my socks off! Jacob filled his smallish front yard with a huge variety of plants, and his approach has paid off–low water but full of vibrant color. Photo courtesy of Jacob Durtschi.
The Paintbrush is blooming on Mores Mountain! It’s just one of the most striking sights awaiting hikers. But as much as people would love to have Paintbrush in their home gardens, I have not yet figured out how to grow these beauties in a pot–or even in the ground. Fun facts: 1) the red you see are bracts (modified leaves), which hide the tiny flowers 2) most Paintbrushes are semi-parasitic, deriving some of their nutrients and water from the roots of a host plant, a strategy that allows them to inhabit drier spots.There are about 250 species of Paintbrush in N. America and over 20 in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Moyer.
May Flowers! It takes my breath away when May arrives and flowers just jump up out of the green. This year the woody Penstemons–like this one (Dwarf Shrubby)–are in exceptionally fine form. What makes for a good Penstemon year? What unique combination of winter cold, spring warmth, snow cover, rain, sun? It’s a mystery to me, but a delight to witness.
I have always adored the flowering pears in the middle of Harrison Blvd. That is, until I started thinking of them as Alien Ornamentals and understood what that implies. These showy spring beauties are cultivars of the Asian Callery Pear and–as members of an introduced species–they do not offer food for native insects. You may think, “Great! No pest problems!” The catch is that native insects feed native birds, especially while they are raising chicks. So as far as wildlife is concerned, these pears are a beautiful desert.
There isn’t a whole lot left of this native Snowberry bush in winter–except for those dramatic cascades of white berries! The berries themselves, though not poisonous are apparently not very palatable to birds and other wildlife. So they hang there lovely profusion throughout the winter. A well-named plant indeed.
When redesigning a landscape to conserve water, many people face the daunting challenge of removing lawn. Here is a great example from veteran xeriscaper Jill Weigel. She and her husband stopped watering the lawn this summer but they knew it would still come back with the first fall rains. The next step to completely eradicate the lawn was to cover it with cardboard. Step three was to hide the cardboard by spreading out a thick layer of organic much. They are now are ready to plant!
In our demonstration gardens we work with 4 or 5 different species of Liatris, also called Blazing Stars or Gay Feathers. They are all beautiful, but I have to say that this one, Liatris punctata (aka “Dotted Blazing Star”), is my favorite. It is the shortest, stockiest one of all, also the latest to bloom–just taking off right now. To top that off, it appears to be the most drought tolerant of the Liatrises. Wouldn’t you know it, L. punctata is frustratingly slow to get started in a pot, but once established in the garden it is long lived and gradually produces a scattering of offspring. What a gem!
By mid-August some gardens can look dry and exhausted. But a properly descigned xerixcape, like this one, can still be vibrant and exciting after six weeks of searing heat. Here we find a mix of late-flowering perennials like Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria), Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) and Coneflower (Echinacea)–along with evergreen groundcovers like Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum) and Sedums. Earlier flowering perennials–which made this garden sparkle in May and June–are still there, but are now inconspicuous. This is a great example of a true 4-season landscape.
The ever-beautiful Sulfur Buckwheats are just coming into bloom and will be wide open by the summer solstice. As early summer flowers get going, the garden is buzzing with insects. Butterflies and hummingbirds are looking for food and the first Monarch of the season showed up just a couple days ago.
But as the heat of summer approaches, gardeners understandably take a break –and so do I! So, this week will be our last week of regular hours until September. The nursery will be open by appointment through the summer. But keep in mind . . . September and early October are arguably the best time of year to plant perennials and Draggin’ Wing will have more plants than ever!
Alert!! Cheatgrass Season is on! May is great for flowers, but it is also when Cheatgrass sets seed, thereby becoming both recognizable and vulnerable. Cheatgrass, as you may know, is an incredibly successful annual weed, having taken over much of the Foothills (yes, a lot of that nice green fuzz up there) and many urban landscapes. Cheatgrass has two important allies: 1) Fire, and 2) Gardeners who ignore it. The key to controlling it is to understand its strategy—seeds! To win pull up all the Cheatgrass you see NOW—a gentle tug will do—and throw the seed head in the garbage. Mowing will not help—it only comes back shorter and makes more seed. Do not wait until the Cheat is all dried out and clings to your to socks or gets in your dog’s ears. Stay tuned next fall for more on Cheatgrass control.
In this long, cold spring following a long cold winter many plants have been slow coming on. But this Wax Currant next to my shady back porch is in its glory. Wax Currant is native to Southern Idaho and much of the Intermountain West. It has leaves smaller and tends to more dense than the better know Golden Currant. It is happiest in part shade. A bit of trimming will maintain its nice compact form.
This time of year, when most things in the garden are still dormant, the Sandworts really stand out. Mountain Sandwort is appropriately big and green on St. Patirick’s Day. We grow several other Sandworts–all beautifully evergreen–including one Idaho native, King’s Sandwort (Arenaria kingii).
The snow has barely retreated, and here they come! A promise of spring . . . and none too soon for me. These Snowdrops are just the first in a succession of bulbs than will bring color, beauty and joy to the brownest, driest yard. Bulbs are a perfect addition to any xeriscape as they rely on natural moisture to keep them going and basically require no irrigation.
Spring–bring it on!